REVIEW: I Am Lisa (2020) – FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition

dir. Patrick Rea.

In small town America, Lisa (Kristen Vaganos) returns home to run the family bookstore after her grandma passes away. However when she resists the sexual advances of local bully – and Sheriff’s daughter – Jessica (Carmen Anello), she is tortured, raped and dumped in the woods to be eaten by wolves. As it happens the wolf which takes a bite out of her is of a supernatural ilk, so as well as surviving Lisa starts to develop strange abilities that might just serve in exacting bloody vengeance on her assailants.

Director Rea’s setup is explicitly female-centric: perhaps unsurprisingly given that it bridges the rape-revenge and werewolf sub-genres, both of which have gender and transformation baked into their DNA (the first in terms of assault and transition from victim to survivor; the second with its basis in lunar cycles and bodily change). Billed as a cross between I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and Ginger Snaps (2000) then this feels like a (super)natural fit, and – to a degree – it is.

The script sails past the Bechdel test, with female relationships (both good and bad) taking centre stage. Lisa’s key support comes from her best-friend Sam (Jennifer Seward), and when the pair tease each other about needing a man they laugh it off, extolling the virtues of self love. Of Lisa’s assailants only one is male (Jessica’s hick brother Nick), and the key villain is their mother, Sheriff Huckins (Manon Halliburton), who organises Lisa’s assault. As with Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge (2017) the plot demonstrates that rape-revenge movies are not inherently problematic but rather can offer a gender-critical window through which the audience might peer.

Alas, despite such potential, the view through this particular window is limited. Some dialogue is unintentionally hilarious (“It may have looked like an accident,” warns the Sheriff after someone’s head is almost twisted off, “but I can guarantee you it wasn’t”) and sadly as the narrative sprawls out the budgetary limitations show. Nevertheless there is an air of triumphalism as Lisa reckons with her new nature, and claims her own name, complete with the ferocity which now resides within.

Tim Coleman

I AM LISA has its world premiere at FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition on 28th August 2020.

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